While relatively unknown today, Mithradates VI of Pontus inspired fear, romance, courage, and intrigue across the Near East during the first century BCE. Claiming descent from Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia, Mithradates challenged the might of late Republican Rome, creating an empire that stretched from the northern reaches of the Black Sea to Syria and Armenia. While loathed by Rome for his massacre of 80,000 Roman civilians in 88 BCE, Mithradates was hailed by Greeks and Persians as a “savior” from oppressive Roman misrule. Mithradates’ ambition, coupled with his advanced knowledge of poisons, make him one of the most intriguing personalities in antiquity.
In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Adrienne Mayor, a Research Scholar at Stanford University, who examines the tumultuous life of this most tantalizing of ancient kings in The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates. Contextualizing his political importance, intellectual brilliance, and complex character, Mayor also shares insights as to why Mithradates has been largely ignored in recent scholarship.